Local school board election makes Fairfax history with all blue school board


Photo courtesy of Sumaya Zahid

The famous “I voted” sticker was received by voters on November 5th when they took part in the local election and voted. Voting polls were set up in schools and public places.

Sumaya Zahid, News Editor

November 5th marked a new beginning for education in Fairfax, as it is the first time in history that all 12 of the Fairfax school board seats were taken by Democratic-endorsed candidates. The two seats that were formerly held by Republican-endorsed school board members, Elizabeth L. Schultz and Thomas A. Wilson, were unseated by Democratic-endorsed Laura Cohen and Stella G. Pekarsky respectively in the Springfield and Sully Districts.

“While I do align more with the Democratic Party, I believe school boards should be more non-partisan or at least representative of both sides of the political spectrum as to give an unbiased education,” said senior Ryan Metz.

Six candidates were running in the at-large election: three of them Democratic-backed and the others Republican-backed. All the democratic-endorsed candidates claimed the seats as Karen Keys-Gamarra, Abrar Omeish, and Rachna Heizer were elected to the at-large district.

“I’m not a big fan [of the results], but if they make changes, I hope it’s for the better,” said senior Jason Stine.

Among them, 24-year-old Omeish is both the youngest elected official and one of the first female Muslims to be elected in VA history. The Yale graduate is also the first Libyan-American to be elected in U.S. history. During her campaign, Omeish pushed for equal representation of the younger generation and the minority groups that are often unrepresented.

“I think [Omeish] will do great because she’s a Fairfax graduate and knows what it’s like to be a student here,” said sophomore Roa Elashry. “The fact that she is from a minority religion here really shows how much more racially diverse our community has become.”

The board has almost been fully replaced, as eight of the 12 board members are new to office. Among the 12 board members that won, all but one are women.

“Women aren’t being oppressed in the face of high ranked positions,” said senior Mehreen Hoque. “If this election went on 25 years ago, the outcome would’ve been much different, so the progression is nice to see.”

During the campaigns, the issue of social engineering was frequently brought up and disputed over. Republican-endorsed candidates accused Democratic-endorsed candidates and board members for using One Fairfax, a county policy intended to promote racial and financial justice, to unnecessarily social engineer the county. The Republican-backed candidates attacked the act of redistricting students based on their race and financial status.

The Democratic-endorsed candidates and school board members denied this and stated that the claims made by the Republican-endorsed candidates were intended to cause fear in voters and increase their own probability for success.

Republican-endorsed at-large candidate Vinson Palathingal, who received the least number of votes, highlighted his initiative to stop social engineering during his campaign, accusing the former board by stating that their “focus is on social engineering and not on our children’s academic success” on his campaign website.

“I do not believe that this election will fundamentally change education, but we will probably see an increase in school funded programs tailored towards disenfranchised groups,” said Metz.

Schultz, a conservative and the former Springfield district board member, sparked a controversy in 2016 when she posted two tweets on twitter. One was in support of then-nominee President Trump’s presidential campaign, where she said that the released tape of President Trump’s infamous comments on groping women “don’t matter.” Her second tweet came after she explained her support for then-nominee President Trump to a Lake Braddock High School graduate on twitter who replied, “I hope at this point you’ve removed every mirror from your house.” In a reply, she said she was “just buying more ammo (insert ‘banned’ rifle emoji here).”

She was called to resign by Sue Langley, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, who stated her comments were offensive and threatening. However, Schultz resisted and stayed in office till this fall’s election, where she was unseated by Democratic-endorsed Cohen.

“I think it’s great that we have someone other than Schultz,” said Hoque. “In many aspects the school board can be looked at as the face of FCPS and having someone who sees minorities as less is not the face we want to portray.”

This election has proved to be a historic one in Fairfax and Virginia’s history, as the new school board members have been noticed to be younger and more diverse. With an almost completely new board, students are just hoping the best from the changes that might occur in the near future.

“I think the one really important issue they should work on is increasing teacher salaries and bettering work conditions,” said Hoque. “I look forward to seeing what type of progress they bring.”